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IT'S A PUPPET!
& finger puppets
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In December 2001 animator Tony Collingwood talked about his first
feature 'The King's Beard' and 'Eddy And The Bear'...
From Rarg to riches...
From 'Rarg' through the 'Zee Zone'
to 'The King's Beard'...
Tony Collingwood - Animator....
First thoughts, student life and the
birth of a production partnership....
Captain, Oscar, Gnasher...
A rollcall of classic tv...
Beards and Bears and more...
'Eddy', 'The King's Beard' and
here you are, Tony Collingwood - Animator. Was animation
Pretty much. I've never been handicapped by any other talents. I always
wrote plays and drew cartoons at school. It all came together when I
was 11, in 1972 when I saw a show on TV called 'The Do It Yourself
Animation Show' by Bob Godfrey. He blew away the mystique, and I
realised that you didn't have to draw like a Disney animator to make
things move and tell stories. He made the whole process less
intimidating and more fun.
Who are your influences, do you bow down before specific
Obviously Bob Godfrey; then the usual suspects - early Disney, Chuck
Jones, Tex Avery... But my main influences did not come from animation.
'The Goons' made a very big impression on me. Radio is the closest
medium to animation - it gives you the creative freedom and ability to go
anywhere and do anything without it appearing overworked or forced.
The next big step after 'The Goons' has to be Douglas Adams and
'The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy'. I also love the work of Powel
and Pressburger - especially 'A Matter of Life and Death' and 'Black
Narcissus'. The latter film inspired the perspective shots on 'Rarg'.
What kind of stuff were you doing at Liverpool Poly?
Just learning to animate really. Didn't do any polished finished films at all.
(Too much time in the bars.) I started making an epic 20 minute film about
a King with 20 ten foot tall daughters, where all the men in the Kingdom
were only 3 foot tall and couldn't protect the Princess from the 12 foot tall
men from the south. Thank God I didn't finish it. It was dire. The 16mm film
can containing it is hidden in my loft.
Then came the NFT were you teamed up with Chris O'Hare.
Was it an instant 'click', how did you meet?
Chris and I met when I was half way through making 'Rarg'. I was screening
some rushes in the Film School theatre and he was waiting to screen some
of his documentary rushes. He liked the look of the film and he ended up
producing it. We get on very well, probably because we're so different. It was
Chris who brought British Screen and Jim Henson's company to the table to
raise extra money for 'Rarg' that allowed us to hire the L.S.O. for the sound
track. I would never have dared to talk to any of those people as a student!
Was 'Rarg' a story you'd been bursting to tell?
I'd written the story when I was at Art College. It was going to be my first
year project at Film School - but ended up consuming my entire time there
and beyond! I'd always been interested in dreams and the whole film was
based on the premise - what if characters in a dream found out that they
where being dreamt? How would they react? What would they do to save
themselves from the alarm clock?
How did you get Nigel Hawthorne on board - quite a coup for
an NFT production wasn't it?
We just rang up his agent and sent along some of our rushes and Nigel
said yes! We couldn't believe it. He was the first actor I'd ever directed!
I remember at the recording session, he did a read through on tape, and
after he'd finished I didn't know what to say. It sounded perfect. So I just
pressed the talk-back button and said 'Thank-you'. Nigel laughed and told
me he'd read each line in lots of different Ways. He guided me through the
whole direction thing. I still can't thank him enough for all he did for us
So there you are with a lauded and applauded first film
under your belt. What happened next?
I tried to get a sequel to "Rarg" off the ground. But everyone wanted
animated series not specials. I found it bizarre that it was easier to find
money for 13 half hours rather than one - but that was, and still is, the way
the business works. So I turned my sequel into a series with the working
title "Dream Patrol" - all about a group of characters in dreamland who fly
into kids dreams and help them out of nightmare situations. The series
ended up being financed by Scottish Television and HIT Entertainment.
It ended up being called "Captain Zed and the Zee Zone". After that, we
were on a roll and never really looked back.
So next came "Oscar's Orchestra", was this self-created as well?
Did you have a notion to bring classical music to children?
Oscar's was something that came to me as an initial idea by music
producer Jan Younghusband who wanted to do an animated orchestra
teaching music to children. I took this premise and came up with a scenario
where music was banned in the future. The idea being that if you ban
anything, then it immediately becomes more interesting to kids! Much like
"Rarg" and "Captain Zed", I always prefer to come up with the scenario
and then populate it with the characters.
"Dennis & Gnasher" has been a high-profile success story,
were you always a fan? Was it brought to you by DC Thomson,
or did you approach them to develop it?
Chris and I where asked in to HIT Entertainment to pitch for the show
along with other studios in town. I'd always been a fan of "The Beano"
and as part of our pitch I wrote an opening episode based on a barber
my Dad used to take us to as kids called "Slasher Brown". That ended
up being the first episode of season one.
So here you are, carving out your name in the 'childrens
TV animation' department when - bingo! - Candy Guard's
"Pond Life" springs up on your CV. How did that come about?
Chris O'Hare had already produced the pilot to "Pond Life". The first
season was made by Bermuda Shorts and Telemagination. For about
78320 reasons, they couldn't do the second season. Chris helped the
international distributor and Channel 4 raise the extra finance from
America and we ended up producing the show. Candy is very, very,
funny. I learnt a lot working with her.
Tell me about "Daisy-Head Mayzie". How did a British
company end up animating an American icon like The Cat
In The Hat - and for Hanna Barbara too!
Back in 1991 I was living in L.A. and was approached to direct a
Seuss feature that sadly still hasn't come to pass, based on Seuss's
book "Oh. The Places You Will Go". I was later approached by the
Suess estate about "Daisy-Head Mayzie". I loved the story. Hanna
Barbera were then brought on board and they produced the show
from LA and we made it from London. It also gave me the chance
to work with Philip Appleby again, a fellow Film School student who
had written the music for "Rarg".
And now you've produced "Eddy And The Bear". Another
one brought to you, or did you discover the books?
Chris O'Hare discovered the three books written by Jez Alborogh.
The three books naturally fell into a three act structure and where
perfect for a special. Chris and I then pitched the film to ITV and
raised the rest of the money to make it.
Eddy is currently a one-off special. I assume a follow-up has
More than a follow up. We've made a 26 part series to follow on from
the back of the special. As with the special the series features the
voices of Robert Lindsay as the Bear, Francis de la Tour as the
narrator and Rupert Garnsey as the little boy, Eddy. (Rupert's voice
was in danger of breaking by the end of the series!!)
I've asked this of Peafur and Snowden Fine before. How
do you and Chris work, are you chalk and cheese, dreamer
Chalk and cheese. We've grown up in the business together and
learnt a lot from each other along the way. We usually reach the same
decisions and luckily want to make the same shows - but we approach
things from completely different directions and meet in the middle!
So there you are with a concept for - say, again - "Oscar's
Orchestra". How does it normally progress from your office
to the broadcasters?
It's the pitch! You write the "Writer's Bible" the rules of the show;
some development drawings and a first script - then go in and do the
big sell! The trick is to do enough work to explain the show - but not
too much that you go bust in the process.
Do you have a team of key animators you always use on your
Artists are like actors. The team has to be cast to fit the production.
There is a great pool of talent in London and we've been lucky enough
to work with some brilliant artists over the years.
I've had emails before for not asking this in my Q&As, so
can you tell me what animation software do you tend to use?
Right now we're doing our first computer animated series, called
"Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto!" We're using the Cel Action 2Dsystem,
first used on Mark Baker's "Big Knights" series. We have also used
the Pegs system for computer paint and trace.
And so to "The King's Beard". Where and How: Where did
the notion come from? How come it's taken ten years to get
it into production?
As I was finishing "Rarg" I came up with the idea of "The King's
Beard". I do this writing exercise where you write 10 one-paragraph
stories in a morning. It stops you looking at a blank piece of paper
waiting for the big idea to hit. Most days I write 10 absolutely crap
stories. But occasionally you hit pay dirt. One day I simply wrote:
"There was once a King who had the longest beard in
the world, and the entire population tried to grow beards
just like him. This was fine for everyone in town except
That was the starting point for writing the film. After that I discovered
the story by asking questions. Why did he have this beard? What
would the barber do? It was the "bottom drawer project" for ten years,
because we were so busy with the series work - and quite frankly,
making a feature seemed too daunting. Chris really believed in the
idea and kept on at me to develop it. At the end of 1999 I finally got
the script together with our story editor Helen Stroud - and now it's
done. At last!!!!!!!
How long was the final production schedule, and where
was it animated?
It took a year and half to make. Again Philip Appleby wrote the
music. We did a lot of the animation in China with a studio we've
built up a good relationship with over the years. They pulled out all
the stops and the standard is way above normal TV specials. We
spent a very long time on the boarding - if that isn't working then the
rest is wasted money. Compared to a theatrical animated feature
our budget was tiny. But there are a few areas where you can do
as well as the big boys. Script - design - storyboard - voices and
music. We concentrated very hard on these areas to give ourselves
the best shot at an entertaining film. I know we couldn't have done
better - and I'm very proud of the result.
It's out on video soon after its Christmas TV premiere. Is there
a DVD coming too? (yes please - with a commentary!)
So far no DVD release is planned. That is usually a second strand
of release if the tape proves popular. However, we have prepared
material for when this happens. We recorded the sound in 5.1 and
filmed the recording of the orchestra and some of the actors.
Collingwood O'Hare are known for their 2D animation
exploits. Have you toyed with the 3D realm?
So far we haven't moved into 3D. Our only new departure is computer
animation on the cel-action system.
And where to next. What plans are afoot?
all images are, of course, © Collingwood O'Hare / F2000-2004